Social Anxiety and Shame at the Petrol Station (and Beyond)

The other day I had an awkward social interaction with an old family friend when I was filling up petrol. He is a few years younger than me and a very kind and friendly boy, but I was gutted when he recognised me and came over to say hello… 

It was the first time I had filled up the car and I was shaking with anxiety having driven there and being far out of my comfort zone already (I am an extremely anxious driver). I barely even knew how to open the sockets or use the petrol pumps and even though I’m not a total idiot, my brain was completely blank. It is incredibly frustrating but this is what happens when my system is overloaded with anxiety: it shuts down.

Anyway, the family friend saw me struggling to put the pump back into the holder, making a complete fool of myself. I hadn’t even finished filling up petrol but I really struggle with multi-tasking and wanted to try and focus on the conversation with him, which is why I was attempting to replace the pump. I was shaking and felt so embarrassed and self-conscious. At the same time, my head was in the clouds. I tried to loosen the tension so joked to him about how it was my first time filling up the car and what a nervous driver I am. (Haha, hilarious….. Not.)

He was really sweet and we just made small talk but it was awkward and stilted and I have no idea what bullocks was coming out of my mouth. Because I was struggling to hold a coherent conversation, he misunderstood some parts of what I was saying – which made it even more awkward as we got into such a muddle. (He thought I had said my grandma was unwell, when what I had been trying to say was that I was going to hers for dinner that night!)

Anyway… That evening my mum by chance went to a dinner party that the family of this boy (and the boy) were at. I had told her about the situation earlier and my social anxiety and shame. She decided to speak to the boy and “justify” my behaviour. She told me that she apologised to him on my behalf, saying –

“My daughter said she saw you at the petrol station and was really awkward. I’m really sorry – she struggles on some days you know… She said she was really out of it and felt really embarrassed because she was hardly able to hold the conversation. She’s a really nervous driver and it was her first time filling up, and she struggles with multi-tasking, so it wasn’t personal. She was worried you would think she was being weird and she feels really embarrassed”, etc…

I was pretty taken aback by the level of detail my mum had gone into, and do not really understand her motives. Maybe she was trying to help me, maybe she is ashamed of me, I don’t know. But I don’t think what she shared with the boy was helpful in any regard, considering he isn’t someone I would ever want to share the details of my inner life (and struggles) with. I barely even know him.

I feel like there were a lot of judgements in what she said and also that she made me out to be someone who is unwell, socially inept, flawed, a freak, etc – like people need to treat me differently because I’m “mentally ill”. I do not think that is helpful at all for my identity and how a) I see myself and b) how others see me. I feel even more ashamed and like the boy probably sees me as a struggling weak pathetic person because of it, who’s behaviour needs to be justified through the “mentally ill” card.

I don’t know if I am upset, angry or relieved (because yes, I do feel the need to justify my “atypical” behaviour when I come across like how I did in that interaction with him). All I know is that it has the total opposite effect of helping me to build mastery when my mum says things like that, especially because I am trying hard to move away from that sort of thinking. I am very ashamed. 

Also, I feel like I “should” be angry with my mum but honestly, I don’t really have enough self-respect to fully care enough about the whole thing?

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4 thoughts on “Social Anxiety and Shame at the Petrol Station (and Beyond)

  1. Yet again you’ve written something that is very useful for me, as a mum, to understand. I’ve been where your mum is and had to decide whether to intervene on my daughter’s behalf or not. I’ve always made the decision based on how well (or not) she seems to be coping at the time, the potential implications of whatever’s gone wrong, and whether I thought I could make a difference. If I intervened it was always wanting to help and support and make sure she could keep something going that was important to her. However, over the last 6 months I’ve really stepped back from this sort of ‘helping’, intuitively sensing that it made her feel worse about herself – and this clarifies for me why that might be. It confirms that I’m on the right track and explains how it seems to her in a way she can’t do herself. Thank you 🙂

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  2. i had the same problem when I was first driving! I used to think when I turned left I would be able to turn but didn’t think it was safe enough and the person behind me would get mad. The gas thing though gets easier! I used to be scared of messing up and not having any gas to be able leave and hide my embarrassment of not being able to use the pump! Now I have gotten gas 500 times and have survived a bunch of scary people asking me for money and stuff without crying!

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